Ah, the legendary fertility of the Willamette Valley: thick with marionberries and filberts, snap beans and strawberries. Since 1983—the year it became Oregon’s first official American Viticultural Area, or AVA—even the hillsides increasingly bear fruit: cool-weather grapes like chardonnay, pinot gris, and pinot noir.
For Portlanders, the Willamette Valley is wine: 3.4 million acres of regional identity that span the Coast Range down to the Calapooya Mountains. But for the rest of the wine world, the valley’s name on a label only now carries the bouquet of true arrival. Wine Enthusiast magazine named it 2016’s Wine Region of the Year. Meanwhile, California winemakers like Kendall-Jackson are binge-buying Willamette Valley wineries; others are building opulent tasting rooms that out-chateau the swankiest in Burgundy.
In this mix of tradition and tumult, old vines and new, there’s still much to discover. Take the scrappy winemakers of the valley’s Eola-Amity Hills region, at play with lesser-known varietals like gamay and Melon de Bourgogne that thrive in these ancient volcanic basalt soils. Here, in the most southern of the Willamette Valley’s six sub-AVAs, find wide-open country roads—less known than the well-charted wine trails to the north—that make easy touring for off-the-map wine-tasters. Best yet, we taste-tested this loop by bike.
Standing among the fir trees in Dayton’s Courthouse Square Park, you wouldn’t guess you’re in the center of the North Willamette Valley’s wine universe. This tiny farm town (pop. 2,636) a mile off 99-W is just minutes from the plush tasting rooms of Carlton, McMinnville, and Dundee. Here, all that feels ages away.
Twenty years ago, Dayton’s landmark wooden blockhouse—built in 1856 as a guardhouse to control newly displaced tribes at the Grand Ronde Reservation and moved here in 1911—mostly watched over empty buildings. Lately, the downtown streets are a lot busier, thanks to the efforts of local boy Bill Stoller, a staffing mogul and winery owner who has restored several historic buildings in the past decade, including the 1886 First Baptist Church (now home to a café). Today, the main square is bustling, lined with restaurants, shops, and the Seufert Winery tasting room.
From Dayton, the Eola-Amity Hills AVA—home to 31 wineries and more than 3,000 acres of vineyard—is literally a bike ride away. A 38-mile DIY loop (see map below) connects eight tasting rooms, traveling by untrafficked farm roads through the Yamhill River Valley and the town of Amity, past acres of vines cooled by coastal winds blowing through the Van Duzer Corridor. Along the way, riders glide through fields of golden wheat and purple clover, meet hawks, buzzards, and a very friendly winery dog; and climb (twice) the short, steep Eola Hills to be rewarded with stunning valley views and a thrilling descent. Bike safe—use the dump bucket!—and once back in Dayton, toast your trek with a last, well-deserved glass.
Food/Lodging in Dayton
Fuel up with cinnamon roll pancakes at The Block House Café, housed in a 130-year-old former church.
Post-ride, splurge on a five-course dinner at the 21-year-old Joel Palmer House, run by a few generations of truffle-foraging chefs, or dig into a wagyu beef burger a few blocks away at The Barlow Room, a chic bar from the same owners.
For a quirky overnight stay, The Vintages Trailer Resort offers 31 immaculately restored 1940s–60s trailers. $95–130/night
Your One-Day Wine Trek
Dayton to Amity loop: 38 miles
Amity-only loop (OR-153 shortcut): 27 miles
1. From Dayton’s Courthouse Square Park, head southwest on Ferry Street.
2. Turn left onto Lafayette Highway (OR-154). Continue seven miles to Methven Family Wines—this route’s first tasting room—on the right.
3. Turn right on Walnut Hill Road—follow it over the Amity Hills and turn left on Starr Quarry Road.
4. When Starr Quarry ends, zigzag left, then right, and follow Whiteson Road across Dayton Cutoff and 99-W.
5. Whiteson becomes River Bend and then Briedwell. When you hit Bellevue Highway (OR-153), turn left and continue into Amity.
6. Refuel at Tacos Burros and Portuguese-flavored Coelho Winery or Samuel Robert Winery.
7. Take Nursery (OR-153) east, turn right at Old Bethel Road, and keep left on Eola Hills Road. Climb three miles.
8. Just past the summit, stop at Grochau Cellars to say hello to Olive, the dog.
9. Then comes a fast descent past Brooks Wines—watch your right.
10. Keep left on Hood View at the fork, stopping at Mystic Wine.
11. At the bottom of the hill, turn left on Lafayette, then right on Finn Lane.
12. When Finn ends, head left on peaceful Webfoot Road to Hauer of the Dauen Winery.
13. Keep going on Webfoot (zigging left, then right when it crosses Kimsey) until you cross Palmer Creek’s West Fork and rejoin Ferry.
14. Turn right into Dayton, and reward yourself at Archie’s Ice Cream—or a last tasting at Seufert Winery.